Westminster and Fleet Street are all a flutter about An Unexpected MP: Confessions of a Political Gossip, the memoirs of former Tory MP, Jerry Hayes.
It’s a fun, naughty read. As a fellow diarist, Mr S particularly enjoyed Hayes’s tales from his days at Punch. Hayes joined the magazine in the late nineties during its revival under the proprietorship of Mohamed Al Fayed and the editorship of James Steen, the man who Piers Morgan once called ‘the world’s most mischievous journalist.’
‘James had a particularly mischievous side,’ Hayes writes. ‘He was also a fantastic mimic who used to love to wind up the rich and pompous. One of his favourite targets was the Daily Mail’s gossip king, Nigel Dempster. Poor old Nigel had lost the plot by this stage and was hitting the bottle in a big way. His column had descended into a terrible 1950s confection about Princess Margaret, unheard of aristo totty and fading Bond girls. And he was rude and pompous to everyone below the rank of a belted earl.’
Dempster was also engaged in a prolonged battle with Al Fayed. As Hayes puts it, James Steen decided to ‘have some sport and rang Dempster.’ Mr S has permission to share the conversation that followed:
‘Yes, what do you bloody want?’
‘Nigel, it’s Jonathan’.
‘Jonathan bloody who?’
‘You know! My father used to speak most highly of you.’
‘And who the hell is your… was your bloody father, for God’s sake?’
‘Nigel, it’s Jonathan Rothermere here’. He had just become the proprietor of the Mail group.
There was a deathly silence, then followed the most revoltingly obsequious conversation that I have ever heard. Then came the real sting.
‘All this stuff about Al Fayed has run its course, don’t you think?’
‘Of course, of course. You are so right!’
‘In fact, why not say some nice things about him?’
‘What an excellent idea!”
‘And while you’re about it, why not give his magazine Punch a bit of a plug, I’m quite a fan.’
‘I will do it straight away. Wonderful to speak to you, Jonathan.’
Hayes particularly enjoyed the result: ‘The remarkable thing is that Dempster did start writing some nice things about Mo and gave some great publicity to Punch, until Steen printed the transcript of the conversation.’
Hayes continues, ‘Why didn’t Paul Dacre, the editor of The Daily Mail, smell a rat when Dempster started love bombing Mo (Al Fayed)? Because he thought that he had had a cosy chat with Rothermere too.’ Marvellous.